May 28, 2010

Mleeta, The Hezbollah Resistance Museum

So on Tuesday, the new public holiday of Resistance & Liberation, I went down south to check out this new Resistance Museum I had read about in the paper. Well, you can’t miss it; the signs – Resistance Tourist Landmark – start somewhere way back in Nabatiya. The Mleeta museum is a larger version, or actually, a very large version of the Spider Web Exhibition that Hezbollah organized some years ago in the southern suburbs. In Mleeta, they’ve perfected the art; it’s a genuine war museum. With a website (but the English pasrt is still under construction).
The Abyss; the original 'dead zone'

The museum is situated on the hill of Mleeta; a hill that is apparently quite significant in Hezbollah history. This is where, back in the early 80’s, Imad Mugnieyhe  and Abbas Moussawi, started training the very first Muqawameh (resistance) people. The area was occupied by the Israelis in 1982, who started a slow withdrawal in 84-85 until they formed their so-called ‘Security Zone’. Mleeta was right outside this zone, and had a good view on the ridge where the Israelis had set up their fence. Both men have since then been blown up.
Some visitors with very gung-ho kids

Another thing I learned about this hill,  is that it was a so-called ‘dead zone’. Israeli planes apparently leave base only with ammo on board when they have a planned target. Sometimes, they cannot see or find the target, but they do not want to take the bombs back to base and land with them. So they have to drop their bombs in an area where it cannot hurt anyone. This is not done for humanitarian reasons but because of strategic rationale. Any civilian you hit is a reason for the other side to retaliate. Mleeta was one of these zones, so in this hill there’s this huge pit created by years of ‘left-over’ bombs.
"Are you done now? Can we get down?"

The Israelis never intended this, I am sure, but if their invasion into Lebanon in 1982 left one lasting legacy, it is a very powerful and persistent resistance. One so well organized and huge that today - some 28 years after the invasion into Lebanon, and some 10 years after their withdrawal – these couple of men have transformed it into a vast organization with a political party, a permanent army, a large social network (schools and clinics), a media apparatus (radio station, TV, public relation offices for local and foreign press and a number of web sites), a boy-scouts division from which they draw future martyrs, logistical skills that are awesome (they can organize and discipline a crowd like no other in Lebanon), and a intelligence division that is quite sophisticated.
Posing for papa with an Israeli helmet on your head.

All that was missing, is some history. And now, they’ve got that too, with an entire museum. They have built an entire theme park around the spoils of war, intelligence and victories they have gained from their enemy over the years. Now all of this is open to debate; it has come at a huge price, but I am not going to enter into that discussion. Whatever your opinion, this museum is something else.
Checking out Israeli ammo up close

This dead zone’ pit has been filled with all sorts of Israeli military equipment that Hezbollah has gathered over the years. Entire Merkava tanks are lying there. There’s a hall where the complete IDF structure has been posted, all 8 division, complete with who’s the general running it, how many people are in it, what subdivision are stationed where and with what material. Those Hezbollahs are busy bodies, checking the wires on a daily basis for updates. “The Israeli press is open, so we can follow exactly what, where and how,” explained one of the guides. “In order to defeat your enemy, you have to know him, and we know them very well.” He knew how to read Hebrew, but that was as far as he was willing to go. Hezbollahs do – as a rule - not share information with outsiders. Not ever. Everything has to be approved by the main office. And the main office approves almost nothing, since one of their guys once said that the PLO was finished once they let outsiders in on their affairs.
Trenches

Anyone you’ve ever met, who claimed he was working with Hezbollah, is - what we call in the trade - a Wholla (Wanna-be Hezbollah). A real Hezbollah would never say that. They don’t talk. They hate small-talk. One of the guides at the museum spoke perfect American. How come? Well, he’d been living in Dearborn, MI, for a number of years. If you are unfamiliar with Dearborn, it’s where the rest of (shi muslim) Lebanon is living. Rima Fakih, the Lebanese Miss America, is also from Dearborn. Well, our guide was not familiar with the Fakih family, and most definitely not with Miss America. “If you say so,” he replied.
Inside the mountains they dug an entire tunnel system with rooms

Around the hill, you get access to the original Muqawameh base; the thing was dug into the hill, with tunnels running all over the place. They could keep people underground for as long as two weeks. And from this base the moved into the Security Zone, as the Israeli called the occupied area.
Another vehicle

Would I recommend you go and see it? Yes. Admitted, the entire display has a slight ‘Disney’-like quality it, with little signs at every piece of artillery or bomb. The English is stilted, translated from classical Arabic - is a very flowery and poetic language - into the more business-like oriented English, and that just doesn’t read quite well at times. It’s a little kitsch at times, and the symbolism of the display is so thick it almost smothers it. The ratio of veiled ladies versus non-veiled ladies was something like 999:1 (there was quite a large contingent of mullas visiting as well, but I was told that was because of opening day)
A Hezbollah soldier somewhere in the bushes (no, not a real one)

However, you’ve got to hand it to these guys. The Lebanese have yet to come up with a real monument to commemorate 15 years of civil war and they’re still fighting over what should be written in the school history books (and thus all parents only teach their view, which ensure we will perpetuate the reasons for conflict).
But these Hezbollahs have managed to get an entire museum in place. So, if you have nothing to do, check out this Mleeta museum. Whether you’re a Hezbollah fan or foe; I think you’re going to be surprised either way.

And I suggest you do it really fast too, because my guess is that the next time the Israelis drop a bomb on Lebanon, this museum is the first one to go.
The Security Zone. This is the road between Nabatiya and KfarKila; the place is pristine, because the zone was virtually empty of inhabitants for quite a number of years.

51 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an interesting spot to check out next time I'm in Lebanon. Thanks for sharing!

Now, on a semi-related note, I wanted to point out a few things . . . first off, Ms. Fakih is NOT Miss America, but rather holds the title of Miss USA (2 completely different pageants. As Miss USA, she will go on to complete in the Miss Universe Pageant).

Regarding Dearborn . . . I think it should be pointed out that it is NOT home to the "rest" of Lebanon's Shia. Although it is believed that Michigan is home to the largest "Arab" community in the States (allegedly 30% of the population) it should be noted that these figures include not only Shia Lebanese, but Sunnis, Christians, Chaldeans (Iraqis) and Palestinians. (The US Census doesn't ask about your religion, only your race and the response you give is up to you). On that note - there are LARGE Lebanese Shia communities in New York, New Jersey, Chicago and Florida (Ms. Fakih's family called NY home for several years before moving to Michigan).

Unknown said...

Is photography permitted in the museum?

Anonymous said...

I love ur posts.. they seem to have a genuine taste of Beirut which I miss.
Hope all is fine :)
Hkuwait

techcrunch said...

it is very interesting museum i can say it is Lebanon MUSEUM to memorize the war of the new Nazi Zionism

Anonymous said...

Please TechCrunch,
let's not get all emotional over this. It is a Hezbollah museum, not a Lebanon museum.

Meme said...

What a shame , you are sporting Hezbollah it is really a shame...
dont listed as Lebanese please

Unknown said...

Those Hezbollahs are not Lebanese?...
and 'those' Shia, Druze, Armenians, Sunni, Greek Orthodox, Palestinians, Maronites - just to name a few, also not Lebanese?

Outch, never knew that if I took a look into a church I therefore was 'sporting' the bible. Shame on me.

Hausser said...

Will they really bomb it ?
If its really that good and interesting, there might always be too much foreigners visting it.
Look what trouble they got into for the 9 deads on those ships.

LocaLaura said...

What do you guess how many tourists gonna be there as soon as the war started? So it might not actually be the first place, but one of the first _interesting_ places to bomb.
Besides from installing an own museum I think it was established especially to draw medial attention in case of a war.
Correction: Leave away the "in case of"...

Anonymous said...

....an interesting place to visit to get a perspective from another side that is rarely published in western print. Thanks for writing.

Definitely was packed while I was there. Managed to snag a few pics of the place and the rest of Lebanon.

Anonymous said...

Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley is the most beautiful place on earth thanks for the beautiful pictures.

Zeinab D said...

I had the privelage to visit there this summer! It was an amazing experience and I recommend for everyone to go and check it out. You experience all different emotions and you feel the true honour of being a Lebanese and supporting the Lebanese Resistance of Hezballah. You see what they endured for our freedom. LONG LIVE THE HONOURABLE SOLDIERS OF HEZBALLAH !

Anonymous said...

I'm really interested in seeing this museum. But I'm more interested in seeing Lebanon in general. I'm from Ireland and we have our own contentious and sad history too. It would be interesting to see if there are more similarities between our cultures.

Do you think Irish people would be welcomed around Mleeta this October!?!

Unknown said...

Sietske

Is it on purpose or by mere chance that you posted pictures only of heavily veiled women visiting Mleeta? Cause I've been there twice, second time was today in fact, and I saw many women, during both visits, who were not veiled at all, in fact some of them were even wearing tube tops and strap tops with tight jeans and all. As I see that you are impressed by the museum I would have found it more convincing if you hadn't only focused on those veiled women in pics.
Consider that.

Anonymous said...

I just got home from a trip to Lebanon that included a visit to Mleeta.
While there were no other foreigners visiting that day, or more accurately no other obvious foreigners, I felt very welcome at the site and I am sure that anyone who heads there will be received warmly.
I was traveling with a couple others and we were offered a free two-hour guided tour from a passionate and well informed guide who could not have made us feel more welcome.
I would highly recommend visiting Mleeta if you are going to Lebanon because regardless of your views on Hezbollah: The site is fascinating and regardless of whether you see the place as one of inspiration or propaganda (not that the two are necessarily mutually exclusive) Mleeta offered a unique glimpse into one aspect of contemporary life.

Anonymous said...

Many murderers and psychopaths keep personal effects from their victims around, as well as having little insight as to the true nature of their activities.

Hezbollah zealots actually might believe that they stand for something other than evil and murder, but that doesn't make their delusions true.
P. Hutt

Mr.B said...

You know, I'm not sure I want to go. All this military gear makes me too uneasy. For you it might be a holiday curiosity, a one-of-a-kind thing, not to miss. It is, it's true, but for many Lebanese this is an ongoing reality as well, or at least one that is too little distant in the past - and I'd rather do something else on my free time.
I'd still love to visit those pristine natural places in the south. But having to think about your own safety thing spoils the experience.
Yes, Lebanon is safe, overall, I'd know that, but always being so close to trouble finally takes it's toll on you.

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